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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 9/7/22

Guests: David Kelly, Mara Gay, Nick Akerman, Dick Durbin


Former intelligence and national security officials stunned by Trump possessing nuclear documents post-presidency. Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama back in the White House for the unveiling of their official portrait to be placed at the White House. Former President Barack Obama and Former First Lady Michelle Obama headed to the White House for the unveiling of the couple's official portraits. Trump aide Steve Bannon is on track to turn himself in as soon as tomorrow over what's been reported as a sealed indictment in New York.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Thank you so much for letting us into your homes during these extraordinary times. We are grateful. THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hi, Nicolle. Nice to see you.

Welcome to THE BEAT, everyone. We're tracking the imminent move by Trump aide Steve Bannon to surrender himself to New York authorities. That's over new criminal charges, totally separate from Jan 6th and we are tracking that story for you. We have more on it later tonight.

Also today a time of ceremony. History as well as calls for integrity in government and democracy. The Obamas making this rare return to the White House today. You see here, and meditating on the state of American democracy.


BARACK OBAMA, 44TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've always described the presidency as a relay race. Each of us tasked with trying to bring the country we love closer to its highest aspirations.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: What we share is so much bigger than what we don't. Our democracy is so much stronger than our differences.


MELBER: Standard language that some are saying hits different right now with so many election deniers running for office.

Also tonight, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin, is here. So we have a lot going on in this hour. We begin, though, with the nukes. Yes. Specifically the risk danger and the scandal of a former president hoarding these stolen and top secret documents that are, we're learning now, more and more involving nuclear weapons.

There's reporting that the fed seized documents about the nuclear capabilities of foreign nations which they say Trump was holding illegally, as well as intelligence about a foreign country's nuclear readiness. There is also material that U.S. operations it's so secret top security officials don't even have it, according to the "Washington Post" reporting.

It's not good. Now, it took a legal process to recover the allegedly stolen materials. The search warrant, an affidavit which we've now reviewed partly. A judge overseeing all of that. But I have to tell you, this is the kind of problem where people can obsess over the law and in a way, lose sight of why there are such strict intelligence laws about this. And why veteran intelligence figures from former CIA chief and general, David Petraeus to Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger have all been convicted of crimes relating to mishandling intelligence.

Let be clear. The issue is not whether you're experienced in this field or once had the powers that come with some of these offices, or whether you're a combat hero or sympathetic to people. For many things you've done in your life. The issue is not whether you once had top secret access, which of course all presidents have while they're president.

The issue is very clear. And I'm telling you, we cover the law when it's relevant but I don't want to be legalistic as we learn more and more about this. The issue is more than the law. It is about whether ex-government officials put the U.S. in danger by abusing the access to the materials they once legitimately had. National security veterans speaking out on the latest nuclear news.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: This is quite shocking.

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: It does not make any sense to me at all. This is potentially profoundly damaging.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: If I had those in my house after leaving office, I would be in handcuffs by this time. And so I think the Justice Department has gone out of its way to show deference to the former president.


MELBER: This new "Post" report which so many officials described as shocking or worse does not distinguish or say what classification level those nuclear documents were. The wider legal heat on Trump, though, is getting the attention of his own former attorney general. If you're counting, Bill Barr has now made two notable newsworthy appearances on FOX News, a channel that is known to be watched by many Republicans, Trump fans and the president and his circle for sure.

And Mr. Barr has gone on there absolutely hammering his former boss, rebuking the legal strategy in this case and then today suggesting the Justice Department, that he once led, is getting very close to indicting Donald Trump.


BILL BARR, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes. I think, you know, as I've said all along, there are two questions. Will the government be able to make out a technical case? Will they have evidence that they could indict somebody on including him? And that's the first question. And I think they're getting very close to that point, frankly.



MELBER: Very close to that point where they have the goods to indict Donald Trump. Then you can go to all the other debates that exist and some are legitimate about the prudential considerations, that's what lawyers call it, about whether you always indict a case when you have the goods. Prosecutors don't always do that.

But why is Bill Barr going out there day after day to hit Donald Trump who he so vociferously and loyally defended for so long? And why is the Republican Party apparently, at least in its somewhat serious wing, and Mr. Barr who we have reported has come up short on certain issues, is still what we would call a serious person, an attorney general in two different administrations. Why is this wing of the party taking a real hard second look at all the nuclear secrets that were allegedly stolen and then pried back out of Mar-a-Lago?

Well, let's bring in some experts who are also part of the serious wings of various operations. David Kelly was the former U.S. attorney for the famed SDNY, also full disclosure, happen to be my former boss, and Frank Figliuzzi was the former assistant director of counter intelligence at the FBI and MSNBC national security analyst.

Good to see you both. Frank, given your expertise in intelligence, your assessment of what it means that that nuclear issue was in some of the documents, and do you agree with some of the officials we just quoted who again, before you even get to the law, say this is bad, dangerous, or do you think some of that is somehow overheated?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: You know, if I were asked to place a value or give you a category of classified information, Ari, that would have the highest value to a foreign adversary, certainly, my answer would be nuclear related information. So the fact -- if you couple that with the fact that this was not volunteered and turned over to the National Archives in that tranche of documents. It wasn't turned over in that sheet of documents reportedly provided when there was a DOJ site visit to Mar-a-Lago.

It wasn't turned over as requested in the subpoena that was issued. It was only found by agents who were executing a court-ordered search warrant. I'm concerned about those two things. The high value of the material to an adversary, and the fact that he didn't want to cough that up until the agents had to find it themselves. So it begs the question, why that document? Why wasn't that amongst the tranche to go earlier than this?

Now the other thing that troubles me considerably is, while people may look at this and go, well, the FBI has got to be all over this, this is significant, the problem is we've got a judge in Fort Pierce, Florida, who of course as you know has ruled that the FBI cannot use as lead material the documents seized during the search which would include this nuclear document. And that is very troubling to me because it's going to mean that they can't necessarily go back and track this right now until the special master decides what to do.

That's really potentially going to drive DOJ's decision making on whether they appeal or not. And then we've got the issue of, you know, the national security issue. Our allies saying, is that ours? Is that something we gave you? What's the classification level? We've got a clue from the subpoena that was attached, Ari, to the search warrant affidavit that was unsealed. Not many people focused on the full subpoena that was attached to it which said amongst the things the subpoena was requesting was documents marked secret/FRD.

FRD is formerly restricted data. But don't be fooled by the word formerly. What it mean is, it was formerly restricted as research-type energy, atomic energy material, but is now classified as secret because it's been moved to the Pentagon's bailiwick. It's now military information. That was requested in the subpoena.

MELBER: Yes. And David, your view of whether Bill Barr is in the ballpark or not when he says there's already a technical case to indict here?

DAVID KELLY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Look. I'm not quick to always agree with former Attorney General Barr. But in this case, I think technically, yes. But look, there's more to this case if you're going to prosecute it than just saying, he had the goods in his desk, he had them in his closet and so forth. What I would do is, what I'm sure the prosecutors and the agents are doing, are going back and going to follow the trail from where these documents originated to where they ended up, and try to understand what role and more importantly, what knowledge did the former president have and where they were going and how they got there, and how they were stored, which I don't think is going to be too difficult to do.


And I also, I agree with Frank. You know, look. I don't know how big a roadblock this is, or a speed bump it is in the investigation for a couple of reasons. One, I don't think the government would do anything on the eve of an election. And two, I think there's a lot they can get done along those lines that I just said in terms of following the trail of documents without having, you know, focus on a specific document.

MELBER: Right.

KELLY: Because we're talking about tranches of documents and how they travel. So I disagree -- I mean, I do agree with the former attorney general. I think -- I also agree with him that I think the opinion is seriously flawed. But as a practical matter, you know, I don't think it is really going to be too much of a hindrance, number one. Number two, at the end of the day, where I kind of hate to say this, but I think I'd have to agree that if there is a group of constituents out there that think this adds fairness to the process, then let it be.

I think there's unfairness to the process, too, because he's getting special treatment. But that's kind goes beyond your question.

MELBER: Well, no, I hear you on all that. I think the whole thing can be sorted in months and they definitely gave him extra months in the process before they even executed the search. So clearly the DOJ has decided before that it's not at the so-called ticking time bomb level and that's why I think the special master thing is to some degree can feel like a side show. But then there were other details in the opinion that were just, you know, bananas.

KELLY: That's true.

MELBER: I want to play for you, David, a little more of what we're hearing on FOX including Barr. Take a listen.


BARR: There is no scenario legally under which the president gets to keep the government documents, whether it's classified or unclassified. If it deals with government stuff and it's government, it goes back to the government.

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS HOST: But then if true, this "Washington Post" report highly classified documents at Mar-a-Lago that only a Cabinet level officer or higher could even look at. That doesn't seem like the kind of thing you should have in your post-presidential desk drawer.


MELBER: David, what do you think is going on over there?

KELLY: Well, look, I agree. And that goes back to this opinion by the judge, right? There is this notion of executive privilege is a complete red herring. I mean, he can't -- the likelihood of him being able to assert executive privilege over these particular documents is farfetched, number one. The attorney-client privilege likewise, it's probably extraneous things that the government said would return to him like as in every case.

You know, I think there are some folks who would, in the Trump camp, like to look at this as a storage issue. It's not a storage issue. I mean, that's one of the issue. The storage of documents that are incredibly sensitive. But, you know, you've got to understand what is going through his mind and frankly, I'm willing to say, this is like a criminal mind. Because --

MELBER: Criminal, David, I mean, David, any bank robbery is a storage issue if you want to say that the bank robber wanted to store the money he stole somewhere other than the bank.

KELLY: Yes. It's a storage issue in so far as you are criminally possessing something you're not supposed to be possessing. So if you want the call it a storage issue, call it criminal storage if you will.

MELBER: Criminal storage, yes, there you go. And that goes to where, again, you're both here as experts on law, intel, and the intersection. Not what's going on in Congress. But Frank, I did want to play for you the migration we've seen from these officials. And I know everyone says, you know, I think it's political but these are also people, some of whom have their own role in intelligence and legislating.

And if they are serious people, maybe they're learning things that makes them less likely to keep defending Trump in public, even if they're in the same party. Take a look.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I'm not saying I'm not concerned about the whole situation. I'm just saying I don't have the facts.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Where I have a lot of concerns about is the FBI raiding the home of the likely presidential nominee of 2024. The former president of the United States.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I don't really have any comments on this.


MELBER: Because you know, Frank, sometimes you just -- you have no comment on major issues that affect the national security of the United States. There seems to be for some of them a migration. Your thoughts on all the above, Frank.

FIGLIUZZI: Yes. Look. The facts as they keep coming out, I think, surprise even the staunchest Trump defenders. And I think some of this may quite frankly even astonished the DOJ because it wasn't until that search warrant application, right, until they went in there, they executed the warrant that they actually were staring face to face with highly classified nuclear -- allegedly, a nuclear-related document involving the capabilities of a foreign power.


And, Ari, I have to tell you. These are counterintelligence agents, seasoned counterintelligence agents from the Washington field office, from the Miami field office, even they didn't have the appropriate clearance to see some of these documents. That -- you have to understand how astonishing that is, right? And so that gets into the area of nuclear access programs, which have to be read in and out of.

I've had special access program, accesses that I've had to get polygraphed into and polygraphed out of. And I'm pretty sure the guy serving the Diet Coke to Trump in his office at Mar-a-Lago probably didn't have the polygraph.

MELBER: How did you know it was a Diet Coke?

FIGLIUZZI: Because he drinks reportedly 12 a day. And he did when he was in the Oval Office. So there you have it.

MELBER: Well, David, last question. Should drinking 12 Diet Cokes a day also be a crime?

KELLY: Well, depends on how you look at it, I guess. I think it could be indicative of somebody who is prone to commit a crime.

MELBER: You know, we keep it light here even amidst the serious stuff. You know, health is way outside of my purview but it does sound like a lot of soda or pop or whatever you want to call it as a final thought.

Frank and David, thanks to both of you. Thanks for putting up with me.

We have our shortest break. It's just 60 seconds. When we come back, Obama at the White House. Art, power, and even some tan suit jokes. We're back in one minute.


MELBER: They are back. You can call it the band coming back together again. You had the former first couple, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama returning to the White House with President Biden who, by most political accounts, would not be President Biden had Barack Obama not tapped him as vice president.

They were there for the presentation of their official portraits. This is one of those lovely ceremonies in Washington. These portraits that you see unveiled here will hang in prominent display. They cement a kind of the legacy there of the 44th president and the first lady. You can see the beautiful portraits.

You might say on the hall already, on the wall already, I'm a work of art, a Warhol already. Those are some bars from Obama's favorite rapper who we have mentioned recently. But those portraits will hang on the wall. And today, President Biden praised what was once his former boss and saying he was one of the most consequential presidents ever.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Barack and Michelle, welcome home. Welcome home.


BIDEN: With Barack as our president, we got up every day and went to work full of hope, for real, full of purpose, and excited about the possibility before us. There are a few people I've ever known with more integrity, decency, and moral courage than Barack Obama. We trusted him. All of you in this room. We believed in him. We counted on him, and I still do. And I still do.


MELBER: You know, history is really something. You're witnessing a reflection on it as you look at the Obamas. Everyone understands originally Barack Obama was seen as a new and unlikely potential White House occupant. And they are now separated, Obama and Biden, by that single term of Donald Trump and what he wrought. The Obamas, in that context, of course, reflecting on the import of this moment.


OBAMA: These portraits have a special significance because, as Joe mentioned, they will hang in the White House alongside portraits of other presidents and first ladies dating back to George and Martha.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: So for me this day is not just about what has happened, it's also about what could happen.


Because a girl like me, she was never supposed to be up there next to Jacqueline Kennedy and Dolly Madison. She was never supposed to live in this house and she definitely wasn't supposed to serve as first lady. We're looking at today a portrait of a biracial kid with an unusual name and the daughter of a water pump operator and a stay-at-home mom. What we are seeing is a reminder that there is a place for everyone in this country.

OBAMA: When future generations walk these halls and look up at these portraits, I hope they get a better, honest, sense of who Michelle and I were. And I hope they leave with a deeper understanding that, if we could make it here, maybe they can, too.


MELBER: Inspiring. And fair. And part of the American dream and the story that America tells itself that is sometimes true. But I hope we really listen to what they're saying. Both of the Obamas there spoke in a type of past tense that is optimistic or positive. There were people who wouldn't want them in those positions and now they have held them, and they will be marked and honored on the wall.

But let's be clear, I mentioned that integral of Trumpism between Obama and Biden. There are people in America today who operate that way. Who restrict voting rights in that way. Who don't want certain people to be in positions of power because of who they are. Their identity. And that's not past tense. It is present.

I wanted to note that as we report the news of this day for you. But it doesn't have to all be super serious. This was a kind of ceremonial homecoming and the Obamas injected a little levity and some nice joking memories as well today.


OBAMA: Thanks for letting us invite a few friends to the White House. We will try not to tear up the place. Some of you who I've had a chance to stay in touch with, and I'm thrilled to see that you started families of your own. I am a little disappointed that I haven't heard of anyone naming a kid Barack yet.


M. OBAMA: Or Michelle.

OBAMA: Or Michelle. I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle. Her grace, her intelligence, and the fact that she's fine.


OBAMA: You'll note that he refused to hide any of my gray hairs. Refused my request to make my ears smaller. He also talked me out of wearing a tan suit.

M. OBAMA: Let me thank my husband, first of all, for such spicy remarks.



MELBER: They had some fun. Never forget the tan suit. "The New York Times'" Mara Gay is here on all of this when we come back.




OBAMA: Joe, it is now America's good fortune to have you as president. You've built on and gone beyond the work we all did together. The country is better off than when you took office.


MELBER: Former President Obama today giving Joe Biden some of his props, his flowers, as they head into the midterms. And the Biden administration has been touting a range of breakthroughs including the climate bill that no one expected to pass and student loan debt relief.

We're joined now by "The New York Times'" Mara Gay. Welcome.


MELBER: Absolutely. This is one of those days that is ceremonial. It's not a giant piece of breaking news but it's rare. I shared some of my thoughts on some of what we heard earlier. I'm curious, your thoughts?

GAY: Sure. You know, it's funny because when I got the news alert this morning that the Obamas would be headed to the White House, I almost had this kind of gut reaction, this kind of, oh, no, thinking that Donald Trump was at the White House, even though Joe Biden has been in office now for some time. And of course, what that speaks to is just the symbolism is actually meaningful which is the fact that we had -- you know, it took years to get the Obamas back in the White House because Donald Trump was a president who had led the birther movement, and really just took every opportunity he possibly could to disparage not just the policies but the legacy of the first black president.

And I think that's why this homecoming is actually, while fun, also meaningful. It really does show you just how I guess tenuous really democracy is right now because it shouldn't be remarkable. It shouldn't be a big deal and yet it is. I'm relieved, I will say, that it was Joe Biden unveiling those portraits today, instead of Donald Trump. God only knows what former President Donald Trump may have done or said.

And, you know, what he would have used the opportunity for. But it's important that these portraits are hanging in the White House. Let's not forget that what happens in Washington, you know, really matters. This is the people's house.


And so, every President and the First Lady as well, and hopefully, the first gentleman here, pretty soon, should be on the walls of the White House. And I think these traditions matter because, you know, we've learned over the past five, six years that democracy isn't just rules and laws, you have to practice it.

And so, this is about graciousness. This is about continuity. And, you know, every president except for Donald Trump has managed to honor his predecessor in some way. So, this is a reminder, a bittersweet reminder of what we've lost and what we still need to hold on to.

MELBER: Here's a little bit more of Obama's today.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've always described the Presidency as a relay race. You take the baton from someone, you run your leg as hard and as well as you can, and then you hand it off to someone else.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: The people, they make their voices heard with their vote. We hold an inauguration to ensure a peaceful transition of power. Those of us lucky enough to serve, work, as Barack said, as hard as we can for as long as we can as long as the people choose to keep us here. And once our time is up, we move on.


MELBER: What do you think about the Obama's ability here to give the Biden's the lift they need? Obama is more popular with the Democratic base and the nation -- it's not apples to apples, he's a former president -- than Biden, who I mentioned the breakthroughs but he's had a tough go of it with inflation and a lot of understandable concerns in the nation.

GAY: I think that a little bit of Obama nostalgia is probably going to help Joe Biden really motivate the Democratic base to get out to the polls to remember, you know, what is possible, to remember what excited the Democratic base about not just Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, but about really the values and the hopes and dreams and aspirations that that coalition of voters really stood for.

And that coalition still exists, actually. Those are Americans who certainly are concerned about the democracy and who want to see it expanded to include a more, you know, diverse group of Americans than Republicans do at the moment. And so, that group of voters is extremely weary. And Joe Biden really needs all the help he can get to turn them out to the polls to keep Democrats in the House in November. So I think that's really important.

I also just want to say, I think this is a moment when so many students, unfortunately, across the United States are in schools, where censorship is being applied and the whitewashing of American history is taking place. It's a really sad, sad moment. And I think it's really important for that reason that these portraits we know they're going to go up on the halls of the White House -- this is -- you know, it's not just symbolic -- or I should say, you know, symbols matter and that's a good example of why.

You know, I think this is this is really a moment to hold on to those traditions and make sure that they mean something real.

MELBER: Yes. Mara Gay, thank you. And we tell folks what's coming up. Judiciary Chairman Durbin is here with Steve Bannon who was recently convicted in a Jan 6 case now bracing for another new separate indictment. We have that new story next.



MELBER: Trump aide Steve Bannon was recently convicted in a federal case, now he is on track to turn himself in as soon as tomorrow over what's been reported as a sealed indictment in New York. It's expected to involve alleged fraud and defrauding Trump donors. Now, he had previously faced a federal indictment for this very same fact pattern based on what the reports say, but he was spared -- remember -- any trial because of a last- minute pardon by Donald Trump. A pardon that Bannon got after spending weeks supporting Donald Trump's lies about the election and language and interviews tied to at least allegedly supporting what led to the insurrection.

In 2019, Bannon had a fundraiser for the same border wall project and joked about prison with the founder of the group. This was after a report in BuzzFeed had raised questions about the group financing.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: I should be broadcasting from Saint Tropez off the coast of Southern France because that's where Brian's $1 million yacht is, right? Isn't that -- isn't that what they --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I think my private jet is there as well.

BANNON: Your private jet. You know the BuzzFeed is the -- isn't the BuzzFeed --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: BuzzFeed, Daily Beast.

BANNON: But BuzzFeed is -- was it Fernandez?


BANNON: You have another one yesterday that everybody associate this project is going to prison.


MELBER: OK, that was their way of dismissing this. And it's a reminder hear that sometimes the people screaming fake news the loudest are very, very concerned you might get the news and the facts. The individual you see next to Bannon pled guilty to wire fraud, conspiracy and tax crimes. He faces up to five years in prison. Bannon who faced the federal case was arrested onboard a luxury yacht that belonged to a Chinese billionaire. He was accused of basically pilfering and skimming a million bucks out of the border wall group that was designated funds for other things.

We are now joined by former SDNY Prosecutor Nick Akerman. Nick, let's start with a simple question. Why is New York able to charge something that he was already pardoned for federally?


NICK AKERMAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR, SDNY: Because double jeopardy -- the exception to a double jeopardy simply means you can't be prosecuted the same crime twice. The exception is the dual sovereignty rule, which says that the state can prosecute for what crimes it as and the federal government can prosecute for what crimes it has.

Now, up to a few years ago, New York State had by statute basically said that you couldn't be prosecuted for two crimes, which is the same crime, which is why Paul Manafort was never successfully prosecuted even though he was indicted by a grand jury in Manhattan. The law change. The legislature changed that law specifically in response to Donald Trump pardoning all of his cronies and buddies.

So, that's why at this point, they're able to bring essentially indictment based on the same facts upon which he was pardoned in the federal case.

MELBER: Understood. Now that we go from that and the recent history to the case itself, Mr. Bannon is well known to be wealthy. We just showed the history. But the allegation is very simple. It suggests that he and other wealthy people still decided to steal or misappropriate money that these donors, these small donors, among them, Trump fans, wanted to go towards building the wall and related political activity. Do you think it's a strong case?

AKERMAN: It's a classic mail and wire fraud case. I used to prosecute these all the time. All you have to do is show that people were deceived into parting with their funds, which clearly happened here. It was -- they were lied to. The money was not used solely for building a wall at all. And a million dollars of that went into a Steve Bannon's pockets for his own personal use, as well as some of the other defendants.

And on top of that, there was even a false 1099 that Bannon created that allowed one of the defendants to receive money under the pretense that his wife was doing media service. So, the whole thing --

MELBER: OK, so you've done a lot of cases, as mentioned. My last question with 30, 40 seconds is, why do rich people steal?

AKERMAN: They just want more money. That's all. That's the only explanation. They're just greedy, and they want more money. There's nothing new about it. There's nothing novel about it. And it happens all the time.

MELBER: Yes, and if -- I appreciate the clarity. And if the prosecutor has proved this case -- the defendant is legally presumed innocent at this juncture legally -- but if they prove the case, it will also show that the people running MAGA are ripping off people with a lot less money and privilege who are in MAGA, the sort of regular folks, which is a striking thing that goes well beyond the court case.

Mr. Akerman, thank you.

AKERMAN: Thank you.

MELBER: When we come back, as promised, Senator Durbin, chair of the Judiciary Committee, next.




WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: The fact that he had those documents in his possession is offense enough. If I had had those in my house after leaving office, I will be in handcuffs by this time.


MELBER: A former Defense Secretary there, William Cohen, saying he'd be in handcuffs, arrested, indicted had he done what Trump has done. Let's get right into it with Sen. Dick Durbin, chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee. Welcome back to THE BEAT. Your view on what is both a national security story and a legal one, this exposure the former president may have.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): I agree with Secretary Cohen. You know, I've been briefed on matters that are classified, top secret matters as chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and I was warned ahead of time. We're giving you information we don't want you to share with anyone. If you do, you're going to jeopardize efforts to protect the United States and endanger people who are stepping forward on our behalf and other countries.

Here's the president, the former President Donald Trump taking box loads, box loads of this classified information down to his Mar-a-Lago Florida Resort, and I guess letting it sit in the corner of the closet. It is unthinkable. Secretary Cohen is right. Anyone else held to a basic standard of trust and responsibility will be facing criminal prosecution.

MELBER: Strong words although there's a lot of support for that legal analysis that you share, Senator. There are people who -- you mentioned what standard -- there are people who apply a tough standard to Donald Trump, sometimes a double standard because they still oppose other things he's done. Then there are people who have been very defensive of Donald Trump. I would include Bill Barr on that list. And yet, even by the Bill Barr standard, listen to the news and the waves he was making today.



BILL BARR, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Will the government be able to make a technical case? Will they have evidence by which -- that they could indict somebody on including him? And I -- that's the first question. And I think they're getting very close to that point, frankly.


MELBER: Your reaction, Senator?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that for four years, Bill Barr was the leading apologist and defense counsel for the President of the United States Donald Trump. Time and time and time again, whether it was Bob Mueller's investigation, or the consideration of the actions taken by the president, Bill Barr was there to make an excuse to try to divert the attention from the President's wrongdoing.

Now, he's being more forthcoming in his new role as just a citizen Barr, and appears that he's critical of Trump for what he has done. He's gone as far as to say the technical evidence is there. I don't know how you could deny that. We have photographic evidence even in the public realm that confirms that fact.

But he gets down to the basic point, and that is the Department of Justice, and particularly, the Attorney General, has to decide whether the prosecution of Donald Trump at this point is in the best interest of the United States. That takes into consideration not only the law, not only the standards, but the political climate we live in.

MELBER: Understood. When you look at the actual information, as you alluded to earlier, we don't know everything and we don't know all about the type of stuff that was seized because it's so secret. Can you or your committee or the Senate at this juncture say that America is less safe because of the way the former president handled this material or is that not knowable, in your view yet?

DURBIN: What you have here is a negligent if not grossly negligent conduct by the President in handling Top Secret and Classified information. To put this in boxes stacked up at his Florida Resort with the trafficking of people back and forth and visitors and customers and golfers and all the rest of that come and go, it just was the height of irresponsibility.

Whether it jeopardized any of our national security, we don't know, we may never know. But there -- that isn't the end of the story. We still don't know why in the world this president who was loathed to even read two pages of intelligence information when he was in office, insisted on taking all of this written material with him. It's hard to imagine it was for any kind of a book or legitimate purpose.

We need --really needed to get down to the bottom of it. Was this just the fit of pique by the President that they're not going to get this material, that's mine, I was the president. I'm not going to give it back, or was there something more sinister involved? We don't know.

MELBER: That's an important question raise. Before I go on to one more thing, I mean, do you have any reason to think that it was as you say sinister? I mean, it could be just general emotional, poor judgment. Sinister would imply your concern as a legislator that there could have been some malfeasance sale, other corruption?

DURBIN: I'm not going to jump to that conclusion. I think that would be irresponsible at this juncture, but all the more reason for the investigation to continue. The special master that the attorneys for Trump has asked for is a typical Trump tactic. He's lived a lifetime in lawsuits and he knows the best weapon when you're sued is to drag the proceedings out as long as humanly possible. So, the Special Master is his first trial at that.

I hope that it does not drag it out too long. Let's let the Department of Justice complete its investigation and let's draw the real conclusions based on evidence.

MELBER: Well, Senator, you run the Judiciary Committee. I think, you know nobody wastes time the way lawyers waste time when they want to. Before I let you go, sir, someone from your home state, Illinois, former President Obama with Michelle back at the White House today, a kind of a ceremonial moment with the unveiling. Any thoughts about that, as you witnessed that day in Washington?

DURBIN: I was lucky to be there. And I wanted to be there because there was a time not really that long ago when I said to my fellow senator from Illinois, you ought to run for president. I was the first senator to endorse his efforts for president for 14 months. I was the only senator who supported him. So, I feel a lot of joy in what he achieved as our president, and I was happy to be there today at that wonderful moment.

MELBER: Well, you know, we talk about a lot of news and sometimes difficult stuff reflecting on a little bit of ceremony. And as you mentioned, your history with former President Obama a nice moment. I appreciate your time today, Senator Durbin.

DURBIN: Good to be with you, Ari.

MELBER: Yes, sir.




JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: This is quite shocking.

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It does not make any sense to me at all. This is potentially profoundly damaging.

COHEN: If I had had those in my house after leaving office, I will be in handcuffs by this time. And so, I think the Justice Department has gone out of its way to show deference to the former president.


MELBER: National security experts today respond to the latest revelations about nuclear-related information being found in what was seized from Mar- a-Lago. Now, Trump's lawyers continue to push back. They've said that this was like an overdue library book or a storage issue which we had experts rebut tonight. And yet, as this story has gotten on legs of its own, Trump's former Attorney General and longtime defender, Bill Barr, is saying that there is a technical case pretty close, he says, for the DOJ to indict Trump.

It is a lot of legal heat. We will stay on the case as it were. And I want to thank you for spending time with us here on THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER. "THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" is up next.